Can You Lend a Hand?

christian faith personal growth Feb 08, 2022

In the 1980’s, an epidemic terrorized the world.

Scientists and physicians knew little about the disease now known as AIDS or even about the virus which caused it, HIV. In 1985 Mother Teresa, founder of the Catholic order, Missionaries of Charity, opened a hospice in New York for AIDS patients. Two years later, in April 1987, Princess Diana of Wales – arguably one of the world’s most well-known, beloved, and influential people – visited a hospital in London. During this visit she performed a simple act which profoundly impacted people around the globe.

Without wearing gloves, she held the hand of an AIDS patient. Captured by a photographer and published around the world, this simple gesture, at a time when it was often believed AIDS could be transmitted by simple touch or through the air, promoted more compassion and awareness than thousands of ads, talks, and articles combined. These two women – who could hardly have been more different and died within days of each other twelve years later – were not content with feeling concern for the poor and marginalized; they acted.

Opening a hospice was much more difficult and costly than holding a patient’s hand. Yet both actions honored the humanity of those with AIDS and inspired others to do the same. Loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength engages all of us – our capacity for “who” we are and what we “do.” Sometimes “do” demands lots of people, time, and money -- such as Mother Teresa’s opening a hospice. Other times it’s showing up with the right “who” heart, such as Princess Diana’s taking the hands of an ostracized AIDS patient.

From last week, we know Jonathan didn’t just wish himself to success. He fought his way to victory. Just as a coin can't be divided into two sides, 

Our “who-ness” can’t be separated from our “do-ness.”

The brother of Jesus writes about this in the book of James in the New Testament. Apparently Christians were arguing about what was more important: Who-ness or do-ness. (Side note: Christians arguing over theological matters isn’t new!)

Do you sometimes get the feeling Christians argue more to distract from the real issues than to solve them?

James basically says they were missing the entire point. Faith in God isn’t just about us becoming our best selves so we can live content with our wonderful character. It’s about becoming our best selves to bring glory to God through serving others, meeting real needs like clothing for the cold and food for the hungry. (James 2:14) Sure we can do “good” things with selfish motives which James addresses in chapter 1, meaning we’re not really being our best and truest selves. But we deceive ourselves if we think we can be mature and not have actions which show this.

James pens some shocking words in chapter 2, verse 19: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder!” Whoa! He puts the “I believe in God and that’s enough for me” camp under the spotlight and says, “That’s great y’all. Just so you know. You’re not alone. If you look over there, the demons in the next camp believe the same thing. And they not only believe in God, they have a profound fear of Him!”

Now James isn’t saying believers are the same as demons. He is saying a belief in God -- how we might define our “who-ness” -- is insufficient. Our belief must show up in actions. Arguing over which is more important (who-ness or do-ness or, in traditional language, faith or works), is like arguing whether food or water is more essential to human life. Yes, a person will generally live longer on water without food than food without water, but to stay healthy, a person needs both. (Although one might wonder how long a person could live exclusively on watermelon. Sorry, I digress.)

We all need “do” and “who” in our relationships with others. If a friend says you’re important to them but doesn’t talk with you and turns down every invitation for lunch or coffee or shopping or walking or _____ (name your activity), it’s healthy to start measuring their “who-ness” by their “do-ness.” Our beliefs, values, and priorities aren’t just measured by what we say; they’re revealed by what we do.

And when words don’t align with actions, the old adage rings true: “Actions speak louder than words.”

Self-deception is a universal human capacity. Avoiding this means boldly and ruthlessly examining oneself and being willing to be examined by others to verify if actions align with words. Sure, there are times you may not have the experience, resources, or opportunity to put your beliefs into actions the way you desire. There’s a difference between growth-gaps which we all have and contradictions.

Do-ness matters. Your do-ness matters. You may never undertake a venture as large as opening a hospice – or you may – but never discount the impact of simply reaching out your hand. It may not go “viral” on earth, but it sure will in heaven.


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